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Systematic (IUPAC) name
Clinical data
Legal status Prohibited (S9) (AU) Schedule I (US)
Dependence liability Very High
CAS number 427-00-9 N
ATC code None
PubChem CID 5362456
ChemSpider 4515044 YesY
UNII 7OP86J5E33 YesY
Synonyms Desomorphine, Dihydrodesoxymorphine, Permonid
Chemical data
Formula C17H21NO2 
Mol. mass 271.354 g/mol
 N (what is this?)  (verify)

Desomorphine (dihydrodesoxymorphine, Permonid, street name krokodil) is a derivative from morphine (an opioid) with powerful, fast-acting sedative and analgesic effects.[1][2][3][4] Patented in 1934,[5] Desomorphine was used in Switzerland under the brand name Permonid[6] and was described as having a fast onset and a short duration of action, with relatively little nausea or respiratory depression compared to equivalent doses of morphine.

Desomorphine is derived from morphine where the 6-hydroxyl group and the 7,8 double bond have been reduced.[5] The traditional synthesis of desomorphine starts from α-chlorocodide, which is itself obtained by reacting thionyl chloride with codeine. By catalytic reduction, α-chlorocodide gives dihydrodesoxycodeine, which yields desomorphine on demethylation.[7][8]

Recreational use[edit]

Desomorphine abuse in Russia attracted international attention in 2010 due to an increase in clandestine production, presumably due to its relatively simple synthesis from codeine available over-the-counter. Abuse of homemade desomorphine was first reported in Siberia in 2003 when Russia started a major crackdown on heroin production and trafficking, but has since spread throughout Russia and the neighboring former Soviet republics.[9]

The drug can be made from codeine and iodine derived from OTC medications and red phosphorus from match strikers,[10] in a process similar to the manufacture of methamphetamine from pseudoephedrine. Like methamphetamine, desomorphine made this way is often contaminated with various agents. The street name in Russia for homemade desomorphine is krokodil (Russian: крокодил, crocodile), possibly related to the chemical name of the precursor α-chlorocodide, or similarity of a skin, damaged by the drug use, to crocodile leather.[11]

Due to difficulties in procuring heroin, combined with easy and cheap access to over-the-counter pharmacy products containing codeine in Russia, use of krokodil has increased.[12] It has been estimated that around 100,000 people use krokodil in Russia and around 20,000 in Ukraine.[13] One death in Poland in December 2011 was also believed to have been caused by krokodil use, and its use has been confirmed among Russian expatriate communities in a number of other European countries.[14]

Test results[edit]

Test subjects were subjected to desomorphine intake. The completed tests on animal subjects produced results that contrast desomorphine to morphine; Compared to morphine, the results show increased toxicity, more potent relief of pain, higher levels of depression, increased respiration, and increased digestive activity. Early medical trials of humans taking desomorphine have resulted in the finding that small amounts are highly addictive. As of 1936, there are no legal uses of desomorphine in the U.S.[15]

Street prices[edit]

In 2011, a study showed that 120 Rubles worth of desomorphine is enough to equal 500 Rubles worth of heroin.[16] This is a difference of about 12 U.S. Dollars. Young Russian adults' abuse of desomorphine was increasing in reports from 2009. Due to its cheaper cost, desomorphine was an attractive alternative for these young Russians compared to the high cost of heroin.

Health effects[edit]

Desomorphine typically has large amounts of toxic substances due to it being "cooked" and used without any significant effort to remove the byproducts and leftovers from synthesis. Injecting such mixture can cause serious damage of the skin, blood vessels, bone, and muscles, sometimes requiring limb amputation in long-term users.[17] Causes of this damage are from iodine and phosphorus (and other toxic substances) that are present after synthesis. The large volume of tissue damage/infection is what gained the drug its nickname of the flesh-eating drug.[16] Gangrene, phlebitis, and HIV are also common amongst users of desomorphine. Sometimes, the user will miss the vein when injecting the desomorphine, creating abscess and causing death of the flesh surrounding the entry-point.[18]


Desomorphine is made from codeine mixed with other substances. The codeine is retrieved from over-the-counter medicine and is then mixed with alcohol, gasoline, red phosphorus, iodine, hydrochloric acid and paint thinner.[18][19] Toxic nitrogen oxides fumes emerge from the drug when heated.[20]

Western media coverage[edit]

The media in the U.S. and Canada have brought awareness to desomorphine. There have been incidents reported where desomorphine had supposedly been present within either country but all incidents have not been confirmed by any drug-testing reports.[21]


Desomorphine was patented on November 13, 1934. Lyndon Frederick Small filed for the patent, under the subject titled "Morphine Derivative and Processes".[22] In Russia, desomorphine was declared an illegal narcotic analgesic in 1998. However, while codeine-containing drugs generally have been prescription products in Europe, in Russia they were sold freely over-the-counter until June 2012.[23]

In 2005, Russia's drug-enforcement agencies reported instances of desomorphine being used. By 2011, 65 million doses of desomorphine had been confiscated by these agencies.[24] The number of users in Russia was estimated to have reached around one million at the peak of the drug's popularity.[25]

In June 2012, Russia began implementing stricter controls over sales of medication containing codeine.[24]


  1. ^ Casy, Alan F.; Parfitt, Robert T. (1986). Opioid analgesics: chemistry and receptors. New York: Plenum Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-306-42130-3. 
  2. ^ Bognar, R; Makleit, S (1958). "Neue Methode für die Vorbereitung von dihydro-6-desoxymorphine" [New method for the preparation of dihydro-6-desoxymorphine]. Arzneimittel-Forschung (in German) 8 (6): 323–5. PMID 13546093. 
  3. ^ Janssen, Paul A. J. (1962). "A Review of the Chemical Features Associated with Strong Morphine-Like Activity". British Journal of Anaesthesia 34 (4): 260–8. doi:10.1093/bja/34.4.260. PMID 14451235. 
  4. ^ Sargent, Lewis J.; May, Everette L. (1970). "Agonists-antagonists derived from desomorphine and metopon". Journal of Medicinal Chemistry 13 (6): 1061–3. doi:10.1021/jm00300a009. PMID 4098039. 
  5. ^ a b US patent 1980972, Lyndon Frederick Small, "Morphine Derivative and Processes", published 1934-19-07, issued 1934-13-11 
  6. ^ "Krokodil". New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. 
  7. ^ Mosettig, Erich; Cohen, Frank L.; Small, Lyndon F. (1932). "Desoxycodeine Studies. III. The Constitution of the So-Called α-Dihydrodesoxycodeine: Bis-Dihydrodesoxycodeine". Journal of the American Chemical Society 54 (2): 793–801. doi:10.1021/ja01341a051. 
  8. ^ Eddy, Nathan B.; Howes, Homer A. (1935). "Studies of Morphine, Codeine and their Derivatives X. Desoxymorphine-C, Desoxycodeine-C and their Hydrogenated Derivatives". Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics 55 (3): 257–67. 
  9. ^ Gahr, M; Freudenmann, C; Hiemke, C; Gunst, IM; Connemann, BJ; Schönfeldt-Lecuona, Carlos (2012). "Desomorphine goes "crocodile"". Journal of Addictive Diseases 31 (4): 407–12. doi:10.1080/10550887.2012.735570. PMID 23244560. 
  10. ^ Savchuk, S. A.; Barsegyan, S. S.; Barsegyan, I. B.; Kolesov, G. M. (2011). "Chromatographic study of expert and biological samples containing desomorphine". Journal of Analytical Chemistry 63 (4): 361–70. doi:10.1134/S1061934808040096. 
  11. ^ "Flesh-rotting 'krokodil' drug emerges in USA". USA Today. 
  12. ^ Siberia: Krokodil Tears
  13. ^ Grund, J. P. C.; Latypov, A.; Harris, M. (2013). "Breaking worse: The emergence of krokodil and excessive injuries among people who inject drugs in Eurasia". International Journal of Drug Policy 24 (4): 265–274. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2013.04.007. PMID 23726898.  edit
  14. ^ Skowronek, R.; Celiński, R.; Chowaniec, C. A. (2012). ""Crocodile" – new dangerous designer drug of abuse from the East". Clinical Toxicology 50 (4): 269. doi:10.3109/15563650.2012.660574. PMID 22385107.  edit
  15. ^ "DESOMORPHINE (Dihydrodesoxymorphine; dihydrodesoxymorphine-D; Street Name: Krokodil, Crocodil". Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  16. ^ a b "Desomorphine (Krokodil) Basics". Erowid. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  17. ^ "Дезоморфин. Последствия употребления. Лечение" (in Russian). 
  18. ^ a b Kankudti, Affirunisa (27 September 2013). "Flesh-Rotting Drug 'Desomorphine' Found in Arizona". Nature World News. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  19. ^ "Desomorphine Aka Krokodil". DARA Thailand. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  20. ^ "Desomorphine". Specialized Information Services. Retrieved 3 April 2014. 
  21. ^ No Confirmed Reports of Desomorphine ( "Krokodil" / "Crocodile" ) in Canada. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. November 21, 2013. ISBN 978-1-77178-052-0. 
  22. ^ Bellis, Mary. "History of Krokodil". Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  23. ^ Берсенева А. (23 June 2011). "Без рецепта не обезболят". Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  24. ^ a b Shuster, Simon. "The World's Deadliest Drug: Inside a Krokodil Cookhouse". TIME. Retrieved 4 April 2014. 
  25. ^ "Krokodil". New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Retrieved 3 April 2014.